Indian idea of acceptance & coexistence

Certain unfortunate happenings in recent weeks appear to have deeply moved President Pranab Mukherjee who, while participating in a Durga Puja function last week, identified violence and intolerance as demoniac traits and has exhorted the nation to eliminate them. The President has rightly highlighted the importance of cherishing diversity, promoting tolerance and accepting dissent as the features that have ensured the continuity and prosperity of Indian civilisation.

Now one thing must be clear — that the features outlined by the President are integral to the Indian way of life since remotest times and are rooted in the Vedic dictum that proclaimed the eternal truth that ‘reality is one but is described variously’. India has always believed that diversity can be a source of strength and that all people should not be confined to one single interpretation of reality. Our idea of diversity implying acceptance and coexistence is firmly rooted in our ancient philosophy. If we analyse the situation objectively then it becomes clear that the communal problem is not product of the fact that there exist many religious faiths in India, but it is product of the tendency to use religion as an instrument to pursue personal desires and political ambitions.

In short, the problem — using sacred for the profane — is giving rise to human tragedies that we have witnessed recently and in the past. The problem is that we talk of religion and denominational ideologies without realising that these ideologies seek a privileged and dominant status for their subscribers.

On the other hand, the religious tradition prescribes renunciation and service as the ideals of one who seeks to live a religious life. The fact is that though we are obsessed with religion, yet we are ignorant of our own religious traditions. Swami Vivekananda, the apostle of pure Vedanta, summed up India’s religious attitude in a speech where he said: “We not only tolerate but we accept every religion — praying in the mosque of a Muslim, worshipping before the fire of the Zoroastrian and kneeling before the Cross of the Christian. We believe that all religions from the lowest fetishism mean so many attempts of the human soul to grasp and realise the infinite, each determined by the condition of its birth and association and each of these making a stage of progress.”

India has always believed that diversity can be a source of strength. Our idea of diversity implying acceptance and coexistence is firmly rooted in our ancient philosophy. If we analyse the situation objectively, it becomes clear that the communal problem is not product of the fact that there exists many religious faiths in India, but it is product of the tendency to use religion as an instrument to pursue personal desires and political ambitions.

Dr. Radhakrishnan has echoed the same sentiment when he said that Hindu attitude is one of positive fellowship and not negative tolerance. With this background, it has been rightly asserted that India’s religion is spirituality; whatever else we see are simply customs and rituals associated with various sects (sampardays), which are neither uniform nor do they negate the basic foundations of the universal spirituality preached by Vedanta.

In Vedantic Weltanschauung, religion is a matter of personal striving, personal experience (anubhav), that cannot be attained by becoming part of a crowd. In fact, in another speech, Swami Vivekananda exhorted people to stay away from institutionalised religion. He said: “If you want to be religious, enter not the gate of any organised religion. They do a hundred times more evil than good, because they stop the growth of each one’s individual development. Religion is only between you and your God, and no third person must come between you. Think what these organised religions have done! What Napoleon did was more terrible than those religious persecutions?”

The whole emphasis in Indian religious tradition is on the inherent divinity of soul and striving to grasp and realise it. For one who has realised it, the whole mankind becomes her family and it is impossible for such an enlightened soul to make any distinction on the basis of creed, colour or caste of the person. Instead, in the words of Gita, such a person feels the suffering of every living thing in her heart. It is not mere philosophy but Indian heroines and heroes have lived up to these ideals and have inspired the succeeding generations to inculcate compassion for others, a frequent corollary of realisation of human divinity that lifts itself above the level of brutes.

We have a brilliant story in Mahabharata when the five sons of Draupadi are killed and she is wailing mournfully. Then Arjun comes and consoles her saying: “Dear, I will bring Ashwatthama’s head on a platter for you” and turns back to locate the killer. Draupdi, in that state of grief, holds Arjun back and tells him: “Let not the mother of Ashwatthama mourn like me with my children dead before me. Why should she suffer a similar fate as that of mine? Don’t touch Ashwatthama and leave him alone.” Even though Ashwatthama had killed her children, Draupadi thinks about the mother of the killer and tells Arjun not to hurt him. Dr. Radhakrishnan commenting on this episode says that these were the words of Draupadi but the soul of India was speaking through her.

In another episode of Mahabharata, we have a message from a great woman of ancient India, which seems more relevant today. Mother Kunti while on her way to forest life bids adieu to Pandavas and tells Yudhisthira: “Let your reason and will be established in righteousness and let your heart and mind be big”. In this message lies the secret of overcoming the present day obstacles and make Indian civilisation more resplendent.

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